There’s little that makes you feel better than gardening with your own sustainably created compost. You’re not only fertilizing your plants—you’re also finding a way to recycle food waste. But the compost heap quickly becomes a source of stress and aggravation instead of pride and practicality when fruit flies make it their home. Whether you keep your compost pile indoors or out, fruit flies are an unsightly and annoying addition.
First of all, you should know that these fruit flies are harmless visitors. They won’t damage the compost itself, and fruit flies do not bite; they lack the equipment to do so (mouth or teeth). However, once they’ve been attracted by fermenting produce, an infestation can bring a swarm of thousands of these tiny insects into your home or garden. It’s best to handle them quickly, though, before they can multiply and start looking for other sources of food—like your fruit bowl on the counter or tomatoes growing on the vine.
- Increase Your Ratio of Brown to Green Compost Material
- Buy or Build a Fruit Fly Trap
- Handle Scraps Carefully
- Consider the Source
- Go On the Offensive
- Learn More about Avoiding Fruit Flies
- Fruit Flies: Prevention and Control in a Worm Bin
- Managing bugs in your compost – the good, the bad, and the merely ugly
- 7 Solutions to Common
- Compost Problems
- Pest Proofing Your Compost Bin
Increase Your Ratio of Brown to Green Compost Material
The go-to solution for many gardeners when facing a flurry of fruit flies is to add more brown material to balance the compost. Because the bugs are attracted to decomposing fruit and vegetables, the “browns” help the material in your compost to dry out, discouraging the swarm. (Remember that “browns” in compost include leaves, twigs, sawdust, dried plant material such as hay, unprinted paper, fabrics, unwaxed cardboard, or dryer lint. Your compost pile should be 50-80 percent brown material, though exact proportions vary based on who’s doing the recommending.)
Because the insects aren’t too keen on feeding on these brown materials, you can use them to seal off your compost, and they’ll look for a meal elsewhere. Make sure the top layer of your compost is browns to discourage the flies.
Buy or Build a Fruit Fly Trap
If you know your compost is balanced between brown and green, consider going on the offensive and trapping the bothersome insects. You can purchase fruit fly traps at home supply stores such as Home Depot, at major grocers, or online. There are also several homespun methods for trapping these little buggers. One of the solutions below should work for you.
Apartment Therapy: Cider vinegar, dish soap, jar, and plastic wrap
Taste of Home: Five methods to choose from
Handle Scraps Carefully
There are a few precautions you can take with scraps you’re adding to your compost to help make it less hospitable to fruit flies. Try a few to find out whether one of these solutions will be both convenient and effective in your case.
Because your kitchen scraps are what’s attracting the flies, making them less accessible in the pile will help keep your compost pest-free. You can wrap scraps in butcher paper and add them to your pile in bundles. Boiling the foodstuff before adding it to your compost is another way to make it less attractive for fruit flies.
Consider the Source
It may be the case that the container you’re using for compost is part of your problem. Intuitively, you’d expect that a lidded compost container would be optimal for keeping fruit flies out. Some gardeners say this isn’t the case, though. You may need to adjust your setup to determine which method is best for you—lid or no lid.
For some people, a lidded container actually does prevent the flies. But whether it’s because the flies are trapped inside by the lid or they prefer the darker environment inside, some people report going lidless put a stop to their infestations. Of course, this tip is only practical if you don’t have to worry about raccoons or other critters that may get into an exposed compost pile.
Some gardeners use an outdoor pile with an indoor bucket to hold scraps until a full load is ready. If this is your preferred method and you’re dealing with fruit flies inside, the solution may be simple. For a few days (or until the invasion has ended), don’t use that indoor holding area. Instead, take compost directly outdoors so the fruit flies in your home will be forced to hit the road to find food.
Go On the Offensive
If none of these tips work for your situation and you’re at your wit’s end, there’s one last tip to try. Some people report that boiling a pot of water (or as many pots as you need) and splashing it thoroughly on the compost heap will kill any flies making it their home as well as their eggs.
If you use a lid, shut it immediately after this step to trap the heat inside and steam the offending insects. Splash some of the hot water on the outside of your bin (both top and sides), too. Diatomaceous earth is another weapon against fruit flies, and you can add it right to the compost without fear of harming it.
While a fruit fly scourge can certainly be irritating, it isn’t a major problem for your compost pile outdoors, and they can easily be ignored outside.
It really only becomes a problem when you bring them indoors and they start to fly around any fruits or kitchen scrap collectors you have inside to collect your scraps before you throw them into the outdoor bin.
You shouldn’t lose any of your compost by following these tips, so you’ll still have access to the fertilizer that results from your work. Have you found success with a method we haven’t covered? Leave us a comment to let us know what’s worked for you.
Erin Marissa Russell graduated TWU in 2013 with honors, majoring in English and minoring in intermedia art. In May of 2017, she opened Russell Gibson Content to expand her freelance career into a talent agency for writers and editors, which is now a full-time operation with 60 contractors. With her husband Matt Gibson, she researches speleofolklore, a term the two coined to describe the study of legends surrounding caves, with particular attention so far to the caves of Texas. They are working on a novel based on a legend from Cascade Caverns in Boerne, Texas, and regularly present their work at Texas Folklore Society conferences and other meetings.
Learn More about Avoiding Fruit Flies
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Help for the Home Gardener from the
Contra Costa Master Gardeners’ Help Desk
Compost Bin from recycled pallets… from San Joaquin Master Gardeners Client’s Question:
The client has put a lot of veggie pulp in their compost bin. They have also added a lot of orange peels. This has attracted a large number of fruit flies. The client has covered the compost with about six inches of pine needles and leaves but this has not gotten rid of the fruit flies. The client wants to know what more can be done.
Master Gardener Response:
These flies are not harmful, but can be quite a nuisance when you get clouds of them in your face on lifting the lid of the bin! Very often, even a well-managed bin will have a few of these creatures. One way to minimize them would be to build the pile all at once, then turn frequently so the process runs hotter. The compost will generate heat which will kill or reduce the numbers of fly maggots. Here is a UC link which explains this process. . You can also save your kitchen scraps in the freezer until you are ready to add them.
If regular turning of the bin is not something you want to do, you could start by protecting the kitchen waste container from flies, as they can lay their eggs there which are then transferred to the compost bin. One helpful tip is to line the waste container with newspaper. When you take the scraps out to the compost, wrap them up completely in the paper and bury them under the surface of the bin. Don’t add a lot of pulp material at once, especially citrus, as this is more likely to attract the flies. Pine needles are fine in the compost, but I would be wary of adding large quantities, as they are quite acidic.
I would also advise checking the moisture level of your bin. If the compost is too wet, the flies are more likely to be attracted to the rotting material. If this is the case, you should add more browns such as shredded leaves, cardboard or newspaper.
I hope that this information will help you with your fruit fly problem. If you would like any further information on composting in general, or on worm bins, please do not hesitate to contact us again.
Contra Costa Master Gardeners’ Help Desk
Editor’s Note: The CCMG Help Desk is available year-round to answer your gardening questions. Except for a few holidays, we’re open every week, Monday through Thursday from 9:00 am to Noon at 75 Santa Barbara Road, 2d Floor, Pleasant Hill, CA 94523. (map) We can also be reached via telephone: (925) 646-6586, email: [email protected], and we are on the web at http://ccmg.ucanr.edu/. “Ask a Master Gardener” help tables are also present at many Farmers Markets as well as at the CCMG’s “Our Garden” programs (map). See the CCMG web page for details/locations.
Fruit Flies: Prevention and Control in a Worm Bin
Methods of prevention of fruit flies in your worm bin
The best strategy for dealing with fruit flies and fungus gnats is prevention. The goal is to reduce chances of infestation. Destroying fruit fly eggs before they enter your bin is key:
1. The eggs laid on fruit and vegetable peels are on the surface, so scrubbing all produce well before peeling and adding peels to the worm bin is a good start to preventing flies from hatching.
2. Microwaving waste for 5-10 minutes or freezing food before placing it in the worm bin destroys any eggs that exist in the food waste. Make sure to let microwaved or frozen food return to room temperature before adding it to your bin.
Methods of eradication of an infestation in your worm bin
If you do have a fruit fly infestation in your worm bin, here are some options for how to get rid of them:
Build a Fruit Fly Trap- This is a simple, effective tool for management, especially when used in conjunction with other methods. We recommend having a trap in operation near your worm bin at all times. By trapping the adults, you prevent them from laying eggs in your bin.
Place some apple or red wine vinegar (NOT white vinegar) in a container with a drop of dish soap to break the surface tension of the vinegar. Then, do one of the following:
A. Make a funnel out of paper that goes down into the container. Fruit flies are attracted to the vinegar, but once they touch it they cannot get back out and drown.
Funnel your fruit flies to their demise!
B. Put a Ziploc bag over the container. Do not seal the bag. The flies can fly underneath the bag to get in, but have trouble getting back out because of the weight of the bag.
Trap fruit flies with a bag.
C. Cover the container with saran wrap and secure with a rubber band. Punch small holes in the surface of the saran wrap. Flies go through the small holes and then have trouble escaping and drown in the vinegar.
Flies enter through holes in the Saran wrap but cannot get back out.
*NOTE: Many people advise using banana peels and other fruit in fruit fly traps. The problem is that flies can continue to fly and breed in these traps. The advantage to the vinegar traps is that flies drown.
Add Protective Layers- Adding a layer of shredded paper or moist coir on the surface of your top feeding tray can help to impede emerging adults and discourage adults from laying their eggs in your bin. This allows air and moisture to escape but thwarts the pesky flies.
Another version of this is to add a tray on top of your feeding tray with just shredded paper or cardboard in it. This creates a barrier to fruit flies looking to lay eggs in your food scraps.
Vacuuming- One unconventional way to get rid of adult flies and control population explosions is with a vacuum. You can use a rechargeable hand held vacuum near the bin. Also, if you have a powerful vacuum cleaner with a hose, just use it to suck up clouds of flies as they emerge from your bin during feeding, or if they are congregating in another area of the house. The flies tend to cluster around windows and other light sources so that is a good place to look for them. It is possible for fruit flies to live inside the vacuum cleaner so use care when emptying the vacuum.
Electric Fly “zapper”- There are many battery operated fly zappers. The key is to get one that is designed for small insects. This is effective in killing adult flies as they escape from the bin or congregate in lighted areas.
Fly Tape- Sticky fly tape can help to control adult populations – situate one close to your worm bin and the flies will get trapped.
Managing bugs in your compost – the good, the bad, and the merely ugly
Bugs are nearly inevitable in the casual, “cold” composting that happens in a majority of backyard composts. But don’t let these small, multilegged, unfurry denizens of the heap worry you. Bugs move in wherever they find something they can eat and a nice place to live. Occasional overwhelming or offensive bugs can be reduced or avoided with closer attention to basic compost technique. For the most part, you can and should learn to tolerate a healthy bug population. It’s simply a normal part of passive composting.
Isopods, better known as pillbugs, sowbugs or woodlice, are common permanent residents of the general compost area. So are slugs. Both adore damp, dark nooks and crannies with access to rotting plant matter. Several types of flies and some beetles, and the offspring of both, are transient compost residents. Adult flies constantly scan the area and lay eggs on good larval food sources. The squirmy larvae of tiny fruit flies and of larger black soldier flies are eager eaters of “green” compostables like coffee grounds and kitchen waste. All these critters come to enjoy the banquet of moist, rotting goodness that you’ve set out. They can start eating that waste as soon as you’ve dropped it. The vigorous action of hungry bugs can help aerate the material – the bugs tunnel as they eat. They can even help warm a cool pile in their enthusiastic zeal to consume.
These creatures find your compost on their own. Simply offer what they like and they will come forth and multiply. As they grow, eat, and excrete, they boost the populations of bacteria and fungus in compost. Fungi and bacteria are essential in the degredation process, and they serve as earthworm food, too. Finally, bugs around the bin can be an excellent food source for birds. Wild birds linger in your richly populated garden and stand ready to help with summer pests. Chickens go crazy over highly nutritious grubs and larvae harvested from compost.
Isopod, commonly called woodlouse, sowbug, or roly poly bug, is frequently found near compost piles.
|Garden variety centipede doesn’t help the compost process. It preys on the many other tiny bugs living in rotting vegetation.||C-shaped grub probably from a beetle in the Scarab family. Some Scarab beetles cause problems elsewhere in the garden, so you may want to pick these out of compost piles.|
The compost bug crowd can sometimes be troublesome, not to your compost directly, but to you or your garden. Fruit fly (vinegar fly, fungus gnat) swarms can be annoying in midsummer, if the pile gets overloaded with fresh vegetable and fruit waste. Houseflies that feed on garbage can visit your compost; houseflies do process waste, but also carry disease and invade homes. Slugs and sowbugs that hang out around the dark recesses of the compost area certainly might wander over to your strawberry or lettuce bed. Ants and bees sometimes colonize a portion of a compost pile. Ants or bees don’t particularly aid the decompostion process, and can interfere with your compost use. And some baby beetles (grubs) can take up residence in compost. The classic, letter-C shaped, white, creepy grub may be a young beetle in the Scarabaeidae family. These white grubs in the compost could potantially grow into beetles that feed on your garden plants or lawn.
Occasionally, compost visitors fall into the really creepy, but otherwise innocuous, class. They typically do not play a major role in the decay process. Centipedes and spiders haunt the pile in search of a meal, preying on plentiful microlife. Predatory beetles could come by on patrol for tiny prey. Earwigs enjoy rotting or tender vegetation and the occasional meal in the compost bin. Earwigs do not seem as fond of compost area as they are of simply living right in the garden, under mulch or nestled in tight spaces up on live plants. Wireworms prefer to eat live plants or prey but may be found in compost.
Living with bugs in compost
A well-managed compost system will foster just enough bug action for efficient processing. Follow these tips for good composting and a healthy bug level.
- Keep the moisture level at the equivalent of a squeezed-out sponge. Start up with a proper dampness and add water periodically if needed.
- Chop or shred compost matter, so it will be eaten or decayed quickly. Finished compost is not a bountiful banquet for bugs.
- Foster black soldier flies. These powerhouse compost crawlers especially love coffee grounds. The voracious larvae are brownish, straight and slightly bumpy. Adults look like small black wasps, have no bad habits, do not carry disease, and are rarely noticed. Soldier fly larva discourage the presence of housefly maggots.
- A few C-shaped grubs are probably innocent, but can be picked and destroyed. Birds love to eat grubs.
- When tiny fly swarms overwhelm, cover fresh wet waste with dirt, or bury it WELL into the pile where flies can’t go. (Sprinkling dry leaves on top of wet waste doesn’t keep flies off.)
- Houseflies are highly attracted to meat waste and pet manures; these materials are not recommended as compost ingredients. Fresh corncobs also draw houseflies; bury them well.
Bugs are part of the ecosystem that turns your waste into a valuable soil additive. None of them are highly dangerous to humans, except in the rare case of bee allergy or poisonous spiders. If you can get over the ick factor, you may come to appreciate the benefits of a healthy bug population in the compost bin.
Filling an indoor organic-waste bin with fruit peels, coffee grinds and meat scraps is one way to do right by the environment, but it is also a recipe for a fruit-fly problem. Fruit flies are, as the name implies, attracted to ripe fruit, and often the produce you bring home from the grocer contains fly eggs that may hatch in a matter of hours. In the summer, when compost can become stinkier than usual, fruit flies are all the more attracted to those rotting banana peels and will breed by the hundreds. Here are some ways to keep those pests out of the kitchen.
Minimize waste volume: Hold only one to two days’ worth of food scraps in a tightly sealed bin. Less food equals fewer flies.
Freeze them: Toss the contents of the organic-waste bin into the freezer before you dump the material outside. The cold temperature will kill any fruit-fly eggs.
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Layer them: Place a used paper towel or brown paper bag over the scraps to soak up moisture and keep odour at bay. Food rots more slowly when there is no liquid.
Take it outside: Wrap up scraps in pieces of newspaper, paper towels or an old pizza box and take them directly to the outdoor green-waste bin.
Trap them: In a small container, combine half a cup of fruit juice, two drops of vinegar and two drops of liquid dish soap and seal the container with plastic wrap. Poke holes into the wrap with a toothpick and place the container beside or on top of the bin. The fermenting vinegar and fruit juice will attract adult flies and the soap will kill them. Empty the container every three to four days.
If your household composts its kitchen scraps, you may have had problems with fruit flies. These tiny flies are harmless, but they are definitely annoying. And they can invade your bowl of fresh fruit, spoiling expensive produce. Whether you keep a compost pail on your countertop or use worms to break down scraps in an indoor compost bin (vermicomposting), you need to give fruit flies the boot!
If you start fooling around with your kitchen scraps, you will disturb the fruit flies and they will disperse. The first thing you need to do is start trapping them.
The quickest way to do this is simply to vacuum the fruit flies up. Station a vacuum cleaner where the flies are congregating. Switch on the vacuum cleaner and wave the hose in their general direction. Be careful not to vacuum up worms, worm bedding, scraps or water. When the flies come within a few inches of the business end of a vacuum hose, they will get sucked in. This seems to kill them – we have examined a bagless vacuum cleaner, and all the flies were dead. Repeat the vacuum treatment several times a day until the population has dwindled.
Meanwhile, set up a trap to catch the faster ones that outsmart your vacuum. You can buy them at the store or online. Or make your own fruit fly trap (see photo above):
Pour an inch of apple cider vinegar into the bottom of a jar. Add one drop dishwashing liquid. Place a funnel into the jar or make one using a sheet of paper. Tape the funnel in place. Fruit flies will check in, but they won’t check out. They have difficulty flying straight up. Soon enough, they will fall into the vinegar. The soap breaks the surface tension, and they will drown. Leave this near the source of the flies until the problem goes away (at least 2 weeks). You can replace the liquid if it gets dirty. Tip: don’t place it directly in the worm bin. This actually works – see photos at the bottom of this article.
Take Away Their Food
Now that the vacuum and traps are in place, get to the root of the problem by taking away their food. Fruit flies are attracted to a yeast that results from the initial decomposition of plant material. They eat fruits and vegetables and lay their eggs in them.
If you have any fresh or scrap produce on countertops, simply cover them or put them in the refrigerator. Make sure any fruit flies are brushed away or vacuumed first. In the refrigerator, you might need to store them in air-tight containers if they are already contaminated. Kitchen scraps for composting can be frozen.
In your indoor vermicomposting bin:
- Remove any large scraps that are tough to break down.
- If you see any very tiny white maggots or little dark pupae, chuck them outside.
- Make sure all scraps are buried. Leave nothing on the top.
- Sprinkle up to 1” of fresh bedding on the top. You can make it from, for example, coconut coir, pure peat moss and shredded paper mixed with water. This bedding should be a bit drier than a wrung-out sponge – too moist and it will smother your worms. Rub it between your fingers and thumb when adding, to introduce air for your worms. This extra bedding will make it really difficult for the fruit flies to find the scraps.
- Quit adding organic matter to the bin for a while. Give the worms a chance to gobble up all the scraps. This cuts back on the amount of organic matter in the bin.
- When you add scraps, make sure they are easy to break down. Bury them and cover with at least 1” of bedding.
Fruit fly eggs take around 2 weeks to develop into adult fruit flies. You need to break the breeding cycle by following this program for at least 2 weeks. As soon as you see flies, repeat the vacuuming. Make sure the fruit fly traps are in place. Keep produce off the countertops and bury the kitchen scraps in the worm bin.
Harmless but irritating, fruit flies can’t stop you from having a composting program. With very little effort, drosophila melanogaster can be eliminated from your home.
If you need composting worms, Uncle Jim recommends his Red Composting Worm Mix. Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm also carries a selection of indoor composting bins.
7 Solutions to Common
To all the lovely people,
I hope that this article will help those who may be having trouble with making good quality compost. It comes to us by way of Organic Gardening.
1. My compost is wet, soggy or slimy
Nothing is worse than cold, slimy compost! How does it get this way? Three factors are usually to blame: poor aeration, too much moisture, or not enough nitrogen-rich material in the pile.
A compost pile overburdened with materials that mat down when wet—grass clippings, spoiled hay, heaps of unshredded tree leaves—can become so dense that the pile’s center receives no air. If you leave such a suffocating heap uncovered during a prolonged rainy spell (and don’t turn it to introduce some air into the center), you’ll end up with a cold, soggy lump that just sits there.
Aerobic bacteria—the tiny microorganisms that make compost cook—cannot live in such an oxygen-poor environment. What you instead make welcome in such a pile are anaerobic bacteria, which don’t require air to thrive. These microbes will eventually make compost, but they work much more slowly than aerobic bacteria and the compost will be slimy and soggy during the long (about 2 or 3 years) process.
This would be no big deal for a patient gardener, but an anaerobic compost pile makes a lovely home for sow bugs, pill bugs, and earwigs—all undesirables. And you can be sure that such a pile won’t get hot enough to kill any weed seeds it contains, either.
Fortunately, soggy compost is fairly easy to fix. If relentlessly wet weather is part of the problem, place a loose-fitting lid or tarp over the pile. You’ll also need to turn the pile over and fluff it up thoroughly. If you have some “hot,” nitrogen-rich ingredients (like shellfish shells) and fibrous, nonmatting ingredients (like shredded corn cobs or sawdust), add them to help get things cooking. Your pile should heat up within a few days, after which you can keep it cooking by turning it every week or two.
2. My compost is dry and dusty
Chances are, you live in the West, meaning that you are probably a little dry and dusty, too! This is quite common from May to October in areas where summer rainfall is practically nonexistent. No matter what materials you pile up, the stack just doesn’t get enough moisture to support the bacterial life necessary to fuel the composting process. Luckily, curing dry and dusty compost is as simple as turning on a spigot. That’s right, water it!
Here’s a rule of thumb you can rely on: Your compost ingredients should feel about as wet as a damp sponge when they’re in the pile. Put an oscillating sprinkler on top of your dry compost pile and run it for an hour—this will moisten the materials better than running an open hose on top. After sprinkling, check the center of the pile to be sure it’s moist—sometimes you’ll need to turn the pile and water the layers as you go.
Turning and watering your dormant pile should bring it to life quickly. If it doesn’t heat up, it might lack nitrogen-rich materials. If that’s the case, tear the whole thing apart, add some manure or bloodmeal to get it going, and pile it up again.
And once the pile does start cooking, don’t let it dry out again. As they multiply, those tiny microorganisms use up a lot of water. You may have to water your compost almost as often as you water your roses during a heat wave!
3. There are bugs in my compost
Pill bugs and sow bugs are small crustaceans (not insects) that live on decaying organic refuse. If you turn over the top layer of your compost pile and see thousands of tiny gray, creatures that look like armadillos with seven pairs of legs each, you have discovered a nest of these bugs. (Pill bugs roll up into a ball when threatened and sow bugs don’t; other than that, there isn’t much difference between them.)
Sow bugs won’t harm your compost—in fact, they’re actually helping to break it down. But if you don’t remove them from the finished mixture before you spread it on the garden, you might find them snipping off the emerging roots and leaves of your beans, beets, and other seedlings.
Ants and earwigs also invade compost piles. Like sow bugs and pill bugs, they are essentially harmless to the composting process, but their presence may indicate that your pile is on a slow track to decomposition.
To get these bugs out of your compost, raise the heap’s temperature to above 120°F. (If you aren’t sure what your pile’s temperature is, measure it with a compost thermometer or a regular old meat thermometer wrapped in plastic.) Turn the pile over and rebuild it, watering it well as you go. If it contains lots of leaves or straw, mix in a nitrogen source like bloodmeal, manure, or shellfish shells. It should start heating soon, and when it does, those bugs will depart for a more comfortable place. To keep your pile cooking, turn it at least every 2 weeks; more often if possible.
But what if your finished compost is infested with sow or pill bugs and you want to use it where seedlings are growing? Do you have to start all over again? No. Spread the compost in a thin layer on a tarp in direct sunlight and leave it there to dry. The bugs will bail out quickly.
4. Plants are growing in my compost
Even a hot compost pile doesn’t always heat up enough to kill all the weed seeds it contains. The heat causes weed seeds or even volunteer vegetables (tomatoes, pumpkins, etc.) to sprout.
If the plants are truly weeds, just pull them up and toss them back into the unfinished compost. On the other hand, if the plants are volunteers you want to keep, feel free to transplant them to your garden.
5. My compost smells bad
If your pile emits the sharp, nose-twisting stench of ammonia, it contains too much nitrogen-rich material (raw manure containing lots of urine is the likely culprit); it may also be too wet to allow aerobic bacteria to thrive. If it just “smells rotten” and lots of flies are hanging around it, you’ve most likely added large loads of kitchen scraps or canning wastes to the pile without chopping or mixing them in thoroughly. In either case, you should remake the heap to bring your stinky compost under control.
If you have added manure and stable bedding to your pile, mix in some absorbent and slow-working materials such as chopped straw or shredded tree leaves. The pile should start to heat up quickly, and once it gets going, it will smell just as sweet as compost can.
If kitchen scraps, canning waste, or similar large amounts of mucky stuff are producing offensive odors, turn the pile without adding anything, and be sure to break up all the mucky stuff and mix it in well as you go. In the future, you can avoid this unpleasant task by first finely chopping up such material and mixing it thoroughly into the heap, where it won’t come back to haunt you.
6. Raccoons are eating my compost
Actually, raccoons (…or opossums or dogs or skunks or rats or bears or…) do not eat compost; they tear up the pile to get at any fresh, edible kitchen garbage (especially if you risked adding “forbidden” meat scraps or fat) that you recently buried.
Mixing kitchen garbage with soil or wood ashes before burying it (in the hot center of your pile) might discourage animals from trying to reach the hidden goods to begin with. But once such scavengers have gotten used to visiting your heap for a free meal, your best bet is to build or buy a covered bin (go for an off-the-ground model, such as the Compost Tumbler, if you can) to keep the garbage hounds away.
7. I can’t turn my compost pile
Most experts will tell you that a hot compost pile should be turned at least twice a month and as often as twice a week to keep it cooking away at that ideal 150°F.
Too few of us have the time and energy to work that hard and often on composting. You may also not have enough materials on hand all at once to build a hot pile, which needs to be about 3 by 3 by 3 feet to start with.
You can still create this valuable soil amendment without turning. Simply build your “cold” pile right to start with, and you’ll avoid many of the problems explained in this article. Here’s how:
- Ensure complete breakdown of the materials that go into your pile by shredding and mixing everything before piling it up. Run a lawn mower over it all, use pruning shears to cut up big stuff, like coarse, stems and stalks, or put everything through a chipper/shredder, if you can.
- If that’s not possible, build the pile in layers—alternating “brown” (carbon-rich materials like leaves and straw) and “green” (nitrogen-rich materials like grass clippings and garbage) components, mixing them together as you go.
- In either case, try to include some finished compost or rich topsoil in the mix to introduce those all-important beneficial bacteria to the pile. And remember to water your pile well as you build it. Keep the moisture content as even as possible (if it dries out, give the compost a soaking with the sprinkler). That’s it.
Pest Proofing Your Compost Bin
One of the most common concerns that new composters have is whether their compost bin will attract unwanted pests like mice and other undesirable visitors. Flies and other insects hovering around your compost pile can also be a source of concern.
The best defence against these pests is to simply follow the basics. Here are some reminders and a few suggestions to help you avoid problem guests:
- Never put meat, bones, fats, dairy products, or animal waste into your compost pile. The odour from these can be very attractive to rodents.
- Place a layer of dry leaves or other “brown” on the bottom of your bin. This will provide for good drainage along the bottom of the pile.
- Place your compost bin in a well drained area with at least partial sunshine.
- Don’t leave fresh scraps exposed, always cover them with a layer of “browns.” (leaves, dry grass, etc) These materials will absorb odours and also help micro-organisms to get to the material faster.
- Don’t let your pile get too dry. Keep each layer damp to discourage nesting. Keep your pile well aerated. Turn the pile once a week, if possible, using a pitchfork or use an aerating tool to create air channels throughout the pile. Aerating the pile will also help reduce odours that might attract pests.
- Harvest finished compost when it is ready to discourage pests from nesting in the finished compost.
For more details on the above, visit our composting program information.
A note about insects: Remember that insects like centipedes, spiders, beetles, and earthworms are vital to the compost process. These insects help break down the organic waste into smaller pieces for micro-organisms to digest. Generally, the heat of the compost pile keeps the insect population in check.
In the event that despite following the basics of composting you end up with unwanted guests, you can always consider “pest proofing” your bin:
- Commercially available plastic bins are relatively pest-proof to begin with. However rodents can still burrow underneath and access your bin from below. Putting a layer of 1/4″ wire mesh / hardware cloth under your bin can help prevent this from happening. Chicken wire is not a good choice as the holes are too large and will not keep out smaller rodents.
- Pest proofing a wooden bin is a bit more challenging. The best time to pest proof is when you first build your bin, however in most cases you will have to remove all the material from your bin before starting. You can then line the sides and bottom with 1/4″ hardware cloth. You can attach the mesh to the bin with a heavy gauge staple gun or you can secure it with 2 X 2 posts screwed or nailed into the corners of the bin. The biggest challenge is ensuring that all the joints/corners of the wire liner are secure. Make sure to overlap the mesh and secure it together with either wire or zip ties.
If your wood bin has a removable front panel, you will need to ensure that there is sufficient overlap of the mesh in these areas to ensure that rodents cannot get through. If you also choose to put a wire mesh top on the bin, you will also have to ensure that there are no openings in the corners or along the sides that would allow pests to crawl in. Another option, which is the route we took is to put a fence around your compost area. We used Upchurch Fences because they specialize in more than just wood fences.
Still more questions? : Call the Compost Info-Line: 204 925 3777 ext 1 or Toll-Free 1 866 394 8880, or send us an email!